On this ‘Black Friday’ let us consider our relationship to possessions. For they are more than simple objects; we use them as evidence of our identity, status, taste, & wealth.

Thorstein Veblen in ‘Conspicuous Consumption’ links our need for display to our ancestors.  Comparing a modern fancy car to a hunter’s mighty kill; he states that our possessions are how we show our efficacy and success to others.

This begs the question: are possessions an accurate reflection of our success?

Consider a thought experiment. Man A and Man B are paraded out before you. Man A is wearing jeans from Costco and a Carhartt jacket and shirt. He drives a 2002 Dodge Ram. Man B is wearing a suit and tie. He drives a BMW SUV. Which is more successful?

Consider two further scenarios.

Scenario 1: Man A is a small business owner. He makes a good living and is well respected in his community. He has a wife and two kids. They spend weekends skiing in the winter and boating in the summer. Man B is a very busy attorney. He makes a great deal of money. He does not have time for a family or for hobbies given his work schedule. He travels extensively and works on very important files. Which is more successful?

Scenario 2: Man A and Man B work at the same shop; one in sales and one as a mechanic. The two men earn the same amount of money and have the same savings.  Man A has spent his money on tools and a cabin. Man B has spent his money on a fancy apartment and nice car. Which is more successful?

This experiment was purposely explained to you without a definition of success, in the hopes your internal definition would come forward.

The point I wish to make is this: our success or failure is internally defined, and thus invisible to the eye. Possessions do give us information about a person. They indicate a person’s taste, or what they deem important. They do not however signal a person’s value.

Epictetus states:

“These reasonings do not cohere: I am richer than you, therefore I am better than you; I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better than you. On the contrary these rather cohere, I am richer than you, therefore my possessions are greater than yours; I am more eloquent than you, therefore my speech is superior yours. But you are neither possession nor speech.”

 

Consider Further:

  1. What definition of success came out in the thought experiment?
  2. Why do we need to express our success to others?
  3. What is your identity based on? If you lost all your possessions would you lose your sense of who you are?

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